My One Square Inch of Alaska

In a fresh take on the coming-of-age road trip, the heroine of Sharon Short's poignant novel has a goal: for her little brother to realize his dream of claiming to own My One Square Inch of Alaska.

Teenager Donna Lane narrates her story, which lends a sweet honesty to the tale (and suggests its suitability for a mother-daughter book club pick). In postwar industrial Ohio, Donna has successfully combined high school, after-school jobs and de facto mothering to Will, her 10-year-old brother. Ever since Daddy told them he'd taken their mother to a cancer clinic in Florida, from which she never returned, he's been listless and often absent, providing Donna and Will with bare-bones sustenance and intermittent parenting.

Even with her responsibilities, Donna manages to maintain a social life and a secret modeling job, tucking away her small savings for a planned post-graduation escape to New York City and a career in fashion design. But when Will becomes gravely ill and begs Donna to take him and his rescued Husky to see Alaska, she follows her philosophy and "makes a small choice" that sets the story in motion.

Full of heart, My One Square Inch of Alaska evokes a specific slice of 1950s Americana, a rural town that appears bucolic but simmers with McCarthyism and labor strife. In Donna, Short presents a heroine forced into a youthful maturity that doesn't rob her of optimism, loyalty and amazing good sense. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

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